Photo credit: Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times
A week before Christmas, three passengers are dead after an Amtrak crash near Olympia, Washington, and the southbound lanes of a major highway have been closed for an indefinite period. The train was making its first-ever run along a new, faster route connecting Seattle and Portland, Oregon, when the train derailed, hurtling off an overpass bridge and down onto the highway during morning traffic.
There were 78 passengers and five crew members on board, Amtrak said. Several cars and trucks traveling southbound on the highway, Interstate 5, were impacted by the falling rail cars, but, miraculously, no one in the vehicles was reported killed. More than 100 were taken to area hospitals for treatment.
The train was traveling at more than 80 mph when the derailment occurred. Authorities said the proper speed at that spot was half that much. Why the train was going too fast is under investigation.
Motorists helped rescue people until first responders arrived, said a spokesman for the local sheriff’s department.
The Associated Press quoted an official anonymously as saying the train may have struck something on the track, but there have been no other reports of possible interference with the train’s path.
Southbound I-5 is expected to remain closed through Christmas Day, or longer. State officials asked motorists to delay travel south between Tacoma, Washington, and Portland. An estimated 60,000 motorists use the route per day, the Washington Department of Transportation said, and it is the primary southbound artery. There are few alternate routes, and all involve taking state highways until connecting with U.S. Highway 101 on the Olympic Peninsula.
The new rail route, called the Point Defiance Bypass Project, was part of an $800 million project to upgrade an existing rail line, and provide more reliable and faster service. It was intended as an improvement over tracks that included tight curves and single-track tunnels along Puget Sound.
President Trump tweeted that the derailment was evidence of the need for his promised infrastructure overhaul, but the tracks at the point of the derailment were brand new.